Archives for: June 2007


Permalink 03:22:20 pm, by fumanchu Email , 1679 words   English (US)
Categories: Python, CherryPy, WSGI

Web Site Process Bus

WSGI has enabled an ecosystem where site deployers can, in theory, mix multiple applications from various frameworks into a single web site, served by a single HTTP server. And that's great. But there are several areas where WSGI is purposefully silent, where there is still room for standards-based collaboration:

  • managing WSGI HTTP servers (start/stop/restart)
  • construction of the WSGI component graph (servers -> middlewares -> apps)
  • main process state control (start/stop/restart/graceful)
  • site-wide services (autoreload, thread monitors, site logging)
  • config file formats and parsing for all of the above

Most frameworks address all of the above already, to varying degrees; however, they still tend to do so in a very monolithic manner. Paste is notable for attempting to provide some of them in discrete pieces (especially WSGI graph construction and a config format tailor-made for it).

But I'm going to focus here on just two of these issues: process state and site-wide services. I believe we can separate these two from the rest of the pack and provide a simple, common specification for both, one that's completely implementable in 100 lines of code by any framework.

The problem

One of the largest issues when combining multiple frameworks in a single process is answering the question, "who's in control of the site as a whole?" Multiple frameworks means multiple code bases who all think they should provide:

  • the startup script
  • daemonization
  • dropping privileges
  • PID file management
  • site logging
  • autoreload
  • signal handling
  • sys.exit calls
  • atexit handlers
  • main thread error trapping

...and they often disagree about those behaviors. Throw Apache or lighttpd into the mix and you've got some serious deployment issues.

The typical solution to this is to have each component provide a means of shutting off each process-controlling feature. For example, CherryPy 3 obeys the config entry engine.autoreload_on = False, while takes a --noreload command-line arg. But these are different for each framework, and difficult to coordinate as the number of components grows. Since, for example, only one autoreloader is needed per site, a more usable solution would be to selectively turn on just one instead of turning off all but one.

For a worse example, let's look at handling SIGTERM. Currently, we have the following:


OK, Django doesn't actually provide a SIGTERM handler, but you get the idea. If several components register a SIGTERM handler, only one of them will "win" by virtue of being the last one to register. And chances are, the winning handler will shut down its component cleanly and then exit the process, leaving other components to fend for themselves.

In fact, there's a whole list of negatives for the monolithic approach to process control and site services:

  1. Frameworks and servers have to provide all desirable site behaviors, or force their packagers/deployers to develop them ad-hoc.
  2. Frameworks and servers all have different API's for changing process state. Race conditions and unpredictable outcomes are common.
  3. Frameworks and servers all have different API's for reacting to process state changes. Resource acquisition and cleanup becomes a huge unknown.
  4. Frameworks and servers have to know they're being deployed alongside other frameworks and servers.

We could attempt to solve this with a Grand Unified Site Container, but that would most likely:

  1. force a single daemon implementation, thus eliminating innovation in process invocation,
  2. force a single configuration syntax, thus denying any market over declaration styles,
  3. force a static set of site services, limiting any improvements in process interaction,
  4. add an additional dependency to every framework,
  5. deny using HTTP servers like Apache and lighttpd in the same process (since they do their own process control), and
  6. be a dumping-ground for every other aspect of web development, from databases to templating.

A solution: the Web Site Process Bus

The Web Site Process Bus uses a simple publish/subscribe architecture to loosely connect WSGI components with site services. Here's our SIGTERM example, implemented with a WSPBus:


The singleton Bus object does three things:

  1. It models server-availability state via a "state" attribute, which is a sentinel value from the set: (STARTING, STARTED, STOPPING, STOPPED).
  2. It possesses methods to change the state, such as "start", "stop", "restart", "graceful", and "exit".
  3. It possesses "publish" and "subscribe"/"unsubscribe" methods for named channels.

Each method which changes the state also has an equivalent named channel. Any framework, server, or other component may register code as a listener on any channel. For example, a web framework can register database-connection code to be run when the "start" method is called, and disconnection code for the "stop" method:

bus.subscribe("start", orm.connpool.start)
bus.subscribe("stop", orm.connpool.stop)

Any channel which has no listeners will simply ignore all published messages. This allows component code to be much simpler; callers do not need to know whether their actions are appropriate--they are appropriate if a listener is subscribed to that channel.

In addition to the builtin state-transition channels, components are free to define their own pub/sub channels. CherryPy's current implementation, for example, defines the additional channels start_thread and stop_thread, and registers channels for signals, such as "SIGTERM", "SIGHUP", and "SIGUSR1" (which then typically call bus methods like "restart" and "exit"). Some of these could be standardized. Other custom channels would be more naturally tightly-coupled, requiring awareness on the part of callers and callees.

Since WSPB state-changing method calls are expected to be sporadic, and often fundamentally serial (e.g., "autoreload"), their execution is synchronous. Subscribers (mostly of custom channels), however, are free to return immediately, and continue their operation asynchronously.


The WSPB cleanly solves all of the problems outlined above. The various components are no longer in competition over process state; instead, there is a single race-free state machine. However, no single component has to know whether or how many other components are deployed in the same site.

Frameworks and servers can provide a subset of all site services, with a common, imperative-Python API for deployers to add or substitute their own. However, the WSPB doesn't define a config syntax, so each framework can continue to provide its own unique layer to translate config into that API. A deployer of a combined Pylons/Zope website could choose a Pylons startup script and config syntax to manage the lifecycle of the Zope components.

The WSPB doesn't try to instantiate or compose WSGI components (server -> middleware -> app) either. So there's even room for site daemons which provide no traditional web app functionality; instead, they specialize in providing tools to compose WSGI component graphs via a config file or even a GUI.

It also "plays nice" with mod_python, mod_proxy, mod_wsgi, FastCGI, and SCGI. Those who develop WSGI gateways for these will have a clear incentive to consolidate their ad-hoc startup and shutdown models into the WSPB. For example, a modpython gateway can use apache.register_cleanup to just call bus.stop() instead of providing custom cleanup-declaration code.

Best of all, the WSPB can be defined as a specification which any framework can provide in a small amount of code. Rather than attempt to draft the specification here (that can be hashed out on Web-SIG, since this is by no means complete), I'm just going to provide an example:

except NameError:
    from sets import Set as set
import sys
import threading
import time
import traceback as _traceback

# Use a flag to indicate the state of the bus.
class _StateEnum(object):
    class State(object):
states = _StateEnum()
states.STOPPED = states.State()
states.STARTING = states.State()
states.STARTED = states.State()
states.STOPPING = states.State()

class Bus(object):
    """Process state-machine and messenger for HTTP site deployment."""

    states = states
    state = states.STOPPED

    def __init__(self):
        self.state = states.STOPPED
        self.listeners = dict([(channel, set()) for channel
                               in ('start', 'stop', 'exit',
                                   'restart', 'graceful', 'log')])
        self._priorities = {}

    def subscribe(self, channel, callback, priority=None):
        """Add the given callback at the given channel (if not present)."""
        if channel not in self.listeners:
            self.listeners[channel] = set()

        if priority is None:
            priority = getattr(callback, 'priority', 50)
        self._priorities[(channel, callback)] = priority

    def unsubscribe(self, channel, callback):
        """Discard the given callback (if present)."""
        listeners = self.listeners.get(channel)
        if listeners and callback in listeners:
            del self._priorities[(channel, callback)]

    def publish(self, channel, *args, **kwargs):
        """Return output of all subscribers for the given channel."""
        if channel not in self.listeners:
            return []

        exc = None
        output = []

        items = [(self._priorities[(channel, listener)], listener)
                 for listener in self.listeners[channel]]
        for priority, listener in items:
            # All listeners for a given channel are guaranteed to run even
            # if others at the same channel fail. We will still log the
            # failure, but proceed on to the next listener. The only way
            # to stop all processing from one of these listeners is to
            # raise SystemExit and stop the whole server.
                output.append(listener(*args, **kwargs))
            except (KeyboardInterrupt, SystemExit):
                self.log("Error in %r listener %r" % (channel, listener),
                exc = sys.exc_info()[1]
        if exc:
        return output

    def start(self):
        """Start all services."""
        self.state = states.STARTING
        self.log('Bus starting')
        self.state = states.STARTED

    def restart(self):
        """Restart the process (may close connections)."""

        self.log('Bus restart')

    def graceful(self):
        """Advise all services to reload."""
        self.log('Bus graceful')

    def block(self, state=states.STOPPED, interval=0.1):
        """Wait for the given state, KeyboardInterrupt or SystemExit."""
            while self.state != state:
        except (KeyboardInterrupt, IOError):
            # The time.sleep call might raise
            # "IOError: [Errno 4] Interrupted function call" on KBInt.
            self.log('Keyboard Interrupt: shutting down bus')
        except SystemExit:
            self.log('SystemExit raised: shutting down bus')

    def stop(self):
        """Stop all services."""
        self.state = states.STOPPING
        self.log('Bus stopping')
        self.state = states.STOPPED

    def exit(self, status=0):
        """Stop all services and exit the process."""

        self.log('Bus exit')

    def log(self, msg="", traceback=False):
        if traceback:
            exc = sys.exc_info()
            msg += "\n" + "".join(_traceback.format_exception(*exc))
        self.publish('log', msg)


Permalink 02:19:41 pm, by admin Email , 408 words   English (US)
Categories: IT, Python

Python concurrency syntax

via Bill de hÓra, I ran across this thread on LtU wherein Peter Van Roy comments:

The real problem is not threads as such; it is threads plus shared mutable state. To solve this problem, it's not necessary to throw away threads. It is sufficient to disallow mutable state shared between threads (mutable state local to one thread is still allowed).

...and Allan McInnes adds:

The "problem with threads" lies in the current approach to sharing state by default, and "pruning away nondeterminism" to get a correctly functioning system.

...and "dbfaken" adds:

Perhaps we should have strong syntax distinctions for mutation.

Since the first versions of Dejavu (my Python mediated-DB/ORM), I've noticed that this "pruning away nondeterminism" approach is exactly the wrong direction for systems which are designed to be thread-safe; we could instead explore languages and systems which allow us to "prune away determinism". By that I mean, mutable state should not be shared between threads by default; any mutable state which needs to be shared should be explicitly declared as such. This would make systems like Dejavu much simpler to create, use, and maintain.

I've often wondered what a "strong syntax distinction for [shared] mutation" would look like in Python. The simplest solution would probably have to:

  1. Make class.__dict__'s immutable. This is a natural choice given the normal usage patterns of classes by developers in the wild: generally, a class exists to share methods between instances. There are valid use cases for classes which are mutable, but they are rare; perhaps a sentinel of some kind provided by object could re-enable mutability for classes, but it should be off by default.
  2. Make all module.__dict__'s immutable. This has already been suggested on python-dev (IIRC by GvR himself), although I believe it was suggested as a way to reduce monkeypatching.
  3. Provide a @shared annotation for explicitly declaring shared mutable data.

This is just one solution to a small set of use cases: threaded programs where the explicit shared state is small compared to the total lines of code. I haven't the experience to state whether such a model is inherently damaging to other concurrent needs and designs. It has the benefit, however, of having little impact on single-threaded programs.

Would such a feature help catapult Python into the "large systems" space?

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